In some ways, it works. We know enough about David’s (Jonathan Groff) history that we are intrigued by his emotional journey.
But that just leads to the film’s primary flaw. Writer/Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez detaches from David’s psyche, never delving too deeply into the character’s feelings or emotional responses to external stimulus. When ruffian Curly (ever reliable Corey Stoll) implicitly threatens David, we see the latter’s physical response, but we do not feel his affect. Ditto that for the movie’s other mini-climaxes. By not giving Groff space to portray David’s emotions, Alvarez keeps us at a distance from the protagonist.
Which is doubly odd because the director doesn’t make the same mistake with the movie’s less important characters. We feel Curly’s loneliness, frustration and social awkwardness before and after it boils into inappropriate desperation. We feel Jon’s (Dennis O’Hare) anger and self-delusion. We even feel Paul (Sean Ghazi) and Martha’s (Casey Wilson) anxiety over Jon’s erratic behavior.
So why does Alvarez distance us from David? I don’t know, but I do know the decision awkwardly renders David secondary in his own coming of age. He is never the most interesting character in C.O.G, a fact that proves problematic insofar as he’s the only one present throughout.
It’s also a problem because we do not always understand David’s decisions, at least not to the extent we ought. Such as when he flirts with religion.
Still, C.O.G. has its share of merits, as well. First and most significantly, its actors vitalize it, with Dennis O’Hare standing out as especially effective. Stoll and Groff are also very good.
Second, despite an episodic plot, Alvarez develops secondary characters well.
The director ends this film perfectly.
The soundtrack is also effective, as are the scenes in which David bonds with Pedro (Eloy Mendez), despite a language barrier that prevents proper conversation.
Moreover, C.O.G. is strong thematically, effectively analyzing the cultural differences between socioeconomic statuses without ever being too direct.
Yet, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask: given that this is an adaptation of a David Sedaris essay, where is the humor?
There is a lot to like about C.O.G, but unfortunately there is just as much to dislike. It is average filmmaking.